“In the face of great turmoil, in moments of confusion and times of uncertainty—this is the time when artist show up, and when we need them the most,” Yosi Sergent tells artnet News, paraphrasing author Toni Morrison. “We respond to urgency, and this is a moment that requires a creative response.”
Sargent is the executive producer of INTO ACTION!, a large-scale event kicking off in downtown LA this weekend which brings art and activism together. The event will run for nine days in total, from January 13th to the 21st—a span of time that includes Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the one-year anniversaries of President Trump’s inauguration and the National Women’s March.
The event is curated by Sergant—a cultural organizer with TaskForce and the one-time director of communications at the National Endowment for the Arts—in collaboration with artists Hank Willis Thomas, Eric Gottesman, Michelle Woo, Glenn Kaino, and Favianna Rodriguez. It is set to feature 80-some hours of live performances, panels, and workshops, the majority of which is free and open to the public.
And that’s not all: There is also an “activist incubator” and a ceremony celebrating 500 newly-naturalized American citizens.
The program’s lineup is impressive, both for its size and diversity. It’s a disparate group: musicians John Legend, the Black Eyed Peas, and Chuck D; actors Rosario Dawson and Piper Perabo—to name but a few—are all scheduled to perform or speak.
The festival will also include a 40,000 square-foot gallery space showcasing the work of over 200 artists, from well-known figures like Andrea Bowers, Zoe Buckman, and Dread Scott to lesser-known names chosen from the over 3,500 submissions to INTO ACTIONS!’s open call.
However, the exhibition is not just another group show or benefit auction, Sergant is quick to point out. “This is a very crafted experience,” he says. “This is not a group show where the viewer is just invited into an open space where they can peruse aesthetically beautiful objects. This is an engaging experience where community members will be challenged with questions and asked to dig deep as they are engaged not only in a visual way, but in a deeply intellectual and communal way. From every point of engagement, we tried to think about how to connect visitors with each other.”
Over half of the work was created for the event, much of which is site-specific. Artists were given the choice to put their work up for sale. The majority of have chosen to do so, with profits from the sales split 50/50 between the artist and charity.
Meanwhile, visitors can choose to participate in walking tours led by young kids from Southern California communities who have participated in a special INTO ACTION!-sponsored docent program. The gallery is free and open from 10 am to 10 pm during most of the event. (It’s open from 6-10 pm on January 17, 18, and 19.)
With its hundreds of participating artists and speakers (as well as thousands of behind-the-scenes laborers, Sergent is quick to note), the festival is a wildly impressive feat of event organizing and cross-discipline engagement—especially considering it was put together in less than three months. But what is the ultimate goal?
“At the end of the day, it takes culture to change culture,” says Sergant. “What we’re looking to do is to shift the way that people engage with each other and with the world. History has proven that it’s young people and artists who bring optimism, creativity, spirit and naiveté—in the best of ways—to any social movement. There are countless examples where a single song, or a beautiful moment captured through a shutter, or a perfectly composed poem, has moved the needle. We believe that we can facilitate that. We believe that, instead of just hoping that artists show up and do their duty of speaking truth to power, that we can invite them and support them and build direct connections between them and those people who dedicate their lives to the slow and steady work of activism.”
INTO ACTION! will run from Saturday, January 13th through Sunday, January 21st at 1726 N Spring Street, Los Angeles. See the full schedule of events here.
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